A Leamington-based organization has stepped forward and provided nearly half the humanitarian nourishment required in a war-torn region of the Ukraine.
The Southwestern Ontario Gleaners filled a Musket Transport Ltd. trailer that arrived at its Industrial Road location with 712,000 servings of dried vegetable soup mix on Tuesday, July 5. The Donetsk region — located in southeastern Ukraine, a short distance from the Russian border — is in need of 1.6 million servings of food. Delivery and distribution of humanitarian aid is being conducted by the Masters Foundation to support some of the two million citizens in the area who have been displaced by the war between government military forces and pro-Russian separatist rebels. Since the war began three years ago, 8,000 people have died and 17,000 have been injured. The Masters Foundation, which has operated in the Ukraine for more than 30 years, reached out to the Gleaners earlier this year in search of support.
Volunteers at the local Gleaners spent about three months preparing food portions, placed into three-pound bags that will each provide 100 servings once combined with 25 litres of water for eight to 10 hours. Each bag then takes about 30 minutes to cook, with spices, meat or other additives mixed in by recipients. The shipment, expected to take about six weeks to arrive at its destination, is the single largest in the two-plus year history of the Southwestern Ontario Gleaners. The previous biggest delivery for the Leamington group was 300,000 servings sent to Haiti.
Representatives of the Masters Foundation are stationed in the ravaged areas in need of aid, taking direct delivery of contributions made by other charitable organizations including the Gleaners.
“They make sure it doesn’t end up in the hands of the corrupt,” said Southwestern Ontario Gleaners chairperson Vern Toews. “It goes right to the hungry.”
For some volunteer members of the Gleaners, the philanthropic delivery to the Donetsk area is especially significant. Ernie Neufeld and George Hildebrandt, SWOG volunteers who were present during the loading of the tractor trailer at the Industrial Road facility, lived in Ukraine about 300 km west of the currently affected area until 1943. From there, Neufeld’s family lived in Germany until 1948, when they moved to Canada — one year’ before Hildebrandt and his family relocated to Newfoundland to become a part of Canada during the same year as the newest province.
Neufeld recalls post WWII Germany as a nation in economic duress with little in the way of food and amenities available to many residents. In 1946, his family learned of the Mennonite Central Committee, a group that was able to assist families in need of sustenance.
“They helped us in a very difficult time,” Neufeld recalled. “I’ll never forget. This (the shipment to Ukraine) is a little bit of payback. As this man (Hildebrandt) said, there are two parts to our lives — before and after Canada. Since the second part started, we’ve never been cold, hungry or afraid again. We’ll never take any of it for granted.”
“We were thankful for what was there,” Hildebrandt added of the MCC’s support in Europe. “They gave us hope. I hope this lets people there (Ukraine) know there are people who care.”
Currently, Canada’s other two Gleaner locations are in Cambridge, Ont. and Abbotsford, B.C. The Leamington location’s next objective is to focus on the support of First Nation populations in Northern Ontario, where they have already made deliveries. Shifts at the SWOG run from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Monday to Friday, 50 weeks per year. On average, the organization benefits from the work of 18 to 20 volunteers. Toews explained that the facility could accept the assistance of up to 30 volunteers at one time.